How to Attract and Retain a Diverse Student Population
The definition of the modern learner has shifted: The nontraditional student is the new traditional student. This is especially true in the online learning environment. Instead of first-time learners right out of high school, students are frequently older individuals who have tried college in the past and are going back with specific goals in mind, such as to increase their job satisfaction, advance in their careers, meet new requirements in their existing roles, or simply build better lives for themselves.
As the needs of students change, universities must alter their recruitment and retention strategies to make sure that their messages resonate with diverse student prospects, and that they provide the right support services to meet these students’ needs. For many institutions, this is easier said than done. But there are a number of strategies that schools can pursue to help students from all backgrounds and with all types of motivations find success in their higher education endeavors.
Importance of a Diverse Student Population
In everything we do at Archer Education, from marketing to admissions to retention, we know that one size does not fit all. Individualized recruitment and retention strategies build the kind of diverse student populations that can forge real-world connections in academic learning environments.
In schools with diverse student populations, students are exposed to peers with different mindsets who have had different life experiences, allowing them to broaden their perspective as they engage with their course material. These students are better able to think critically about how to apply their learnings outside the classroom, and can approach real-world challenges with a more open mind. Fostering this dynamic creates stronger graduates, and can give universities the opportunity to highlight their diverse student body as one of the unique and appealing features of their programs.
Barriers to Retention for Institutions
Today’s modern learners face unique challenges that may cause them to put off enrolling in or finishing a degree program. These challenges can range from financial issues or knowledge gaps to outside responsibilities or inadequate support systems.
In response, universities are undergoing a huge shift in how they approach the student journey. In the past, admission and retention staff viewed success as the student’s responsibility. Today, institutions are beginning to see students as diverse individuals who need customized support. By creating and nurturing students’ relationships with both faculty and staff members, institutions create dynamic systems that can adapt to meet different students’ cultures, needs, and backgrounds.
How to Attract and Retain Diverse Students
At Archer, our retention specialists use a variety of technology and communication tools to provide early intervention and academic support to students, including customized emails, phone calls, and texts, all supported by our proprietary Onward personalized engagement platform. We proactively engage with students and make sure they have the resources they need to succeed, reducing the number of students who stop out.
With the student experience as our main focus, our goal is to empower students with the right tools before they’re needed. Our approach puts the student first, with retention specialists checking in regularly to help students navigate issues before they become problems, such as falling behind in class, struggling with a certain skill set, maintaining an acceptable work-life balance, or losing motivation.
Along with using the right retention support services and tools, here are some steps that universities can take to make sure that students feel connected:
Provide Accessible Support Services
- Academic advising. The modern student is outcome driven and doesn’t want to take unnecessary classes. Students benefit from having an advisor who is invested in their success and who can help them make decisions. This includes helping them understand that a sustainable pace is more important than trying to finish quickly and getting burned out.
- Technology and skills training. In the online student experience, orientation is more important than ever. Offering training for first-time online students can help them refresh or learn new skills, such as how to write papers in academic formats or use online learning management systems.
- Mental health services. Students need to be able to make a connection when they’re experiencing moments of stress or when personal challenges arise. Offering mental health support services to online students helps them feel connected to the university and motivated to stay in class.
- Financial assistance and scholarships. It should be easy for students to find the university’s information on topics such as where to get financial assistance, how financial aid systems work, and how much funding they will need to complete a program. Developing thorough website resources and having advisors available to answer questions is essential in this area.
Recognize Students’ Unique Situations
- Provide flexible scheduling and support options. Students who have work, family, or other responsibilities need to have flexible scheduling options for attending lectures and completing schoolwork. Resources such as recorded study sessions or workshops can help students immensely. Likewise, they need to be able to access tutoring resources after hours and have a method of communicating with instructors outside of the standard workday. Universities can leverage technology to help meet these needs. For instance, they can provide access to online proofreading tools such as Grammarly, or make sure that students know how to navigate resources like online library guides.
- Recognize student individuality. Universities are increasingly launching programs that recognize and honor students’ cultures and backgrounds, such as by forming diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) committees, holding cultural events, and observing different holidays. Schools can also establish peer mentorship programs and support groups for first-generation students, international students, LGBTQ+ students, and other student populations. Fostering an inclusive campus culture is essential for community building and social support.
- Offer child care, transportation, and other assistance. Offering extra assistance to students who lack specific resources or support systems that allow them to attend class can make a huge difference in their success. For instance, universities may offer emergency funds, such as scholarships, to help students if a roadblock occurs. The federal Child Care Access Means Parents in School (CCAMPIS) grants empower university students to access free child care if they live near their campus.
- Provide diversity training for faculty and staff. Faculty and staff members should be aware of the diverse learning styles and needs of different student populations. In addition, universities have a responsibility to make sure they are aware of individual students’ needs and are using culturally responsive teaching practices.
Refining Retention Strategies to Reach Students
Understanding your institution’s student population and ensuring that students from all backgrounds feel supported is essential for enrollment growth. If your enrollment, retention, or marketing teams are struggling to reach today’s modern learners, Archer’s team of experts can help.
Our admission and retention teams excel at treating students as unique individuals and recognizing that they are people before they are students. Our Onward engagement tool allows students to personalize their experience from day one to get the information that applies to their specific journey. By getting to know students in this way, our support specialists can anticipate their needs and help them understand their value in the classroom.
Contact us today to learn more about how we can help your institution stand apart from other universities.